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'Rays, Baby, Rays' anthem rocks Trop10/24/2008 5:41 PM ET
By Jennifer Odell / MLB.com
The night the Tampa Bay Rays faced the Boston Red Sox in Game 7 of a tied and tense ALCS, the Bradenton, Fla.-based band We the Kings were onstage playing a concert in San Francisco. They thought they were missing the last game of the series and possibly the season. But suddenly, a strobe light began flashing wildly at the end of a song. Like a pitcher taking a cue from his catcher, leadsinger Travis Clark immediately understood what the lighting tech was trying to tell the band.
"The Tampa Bay Rays are going to the World Series!" he yelled to the crowd, which responded to the now-famously rabid Rays fans with a roar of applause. Celebrations on the tour bus ensued for the baseball-loving pop-punkers.
Clark, along with his band, guitarist Hunter Thomsen, bassist Drew Thomsen and drummer Danny Duncan, have been making their Rays mania known across the country ever since they performed at the Trop in August. It was then that they scored Rays jerseys that they've been wearing religiously on game days on the road ever since. And, they recently re-recorded their huge hit single, "Check Yes Juliet," as "Rays, Baby, Rays," turning a romantic love song with a driving beat into a rally cry for their favorite baseball team.
"When we played at the stadium, we talked a little about it and decided we should say 'Check yes, Tampa Bay' instead of Juliet, and it sprouted from that," Clark said from Boise, Idaho, where the band was taking a breather between jaunts across the mid-west. "I wrote a few more lyrics and we went from there. We thought it was an uplifting song that would be easy to incorporate players' names into. It was special that they made it this far and we wanted to do something."
Since they released their self-titled debut on S-Curve Records last October, We the Kings has made it pretty far themselves. Their energetic pop hooks, playful melodies and sensitive lyrics have proved to be a stellar combination on the pop charts. The album landed at No. 3 on the Billboard Top Heatseekers Charts, iTunes named "Check Yes Juliet" Single of the Week early this year, and they've racked up more than 5,500,000 plays on MySpace.
The band is currently on the road with The Academy Is..., and while they appreciate all the buzz, Clark says he's bummed that it's meant missing the World Series. He remembers going to games with his father as great father-son bonding experiences, and even his friendship with the guys in his band date back to childhood.
"[Our baseball interest] started really young for us," Clark said. "Three of us went to the same middle school and then we went to the same high school. And Bradenton Field is where the Pittsbugh Pirates would play for Spring Training, and the Red Sox and White Sox would do Spring Training in Sarasota. I was the biggest Frank Thomas fan ever growing up. But then the Devil Rays became a team and our loyalty shifted and Wade Boggs and Fred McGriff were our heros."
Today, Clark's heroes include Carlos Pena, B.J. Upton, Evan Longoria and Matt Garza, all of whom he's immortalized in the song "Rays, Baby, Rays" with lyrics like, "Aren't you glad that Pena's on our side/ Upton crushing balls through the ceiling," and, "Three up, three down, as Garza takes the mound."
The band's growing success has slowly started to put them in elbow-rubbing proximity with some of the players. Dioner Navarro and his daughter came backstage to meet them when they played at the Trop, and Clark got a reality check about his own popularity when it was Navarro requesting a picture with him, instead of the other way around.
As the Rays look ahead to the remaining games in the World Series, Clark believes that their main challenge will be to stay calm and focused.
"The biggest thing for them now is to keep their heads in it," he said. "This is the first time a lot of the players have seen this kind of action and I know getting onstage in front of a lot of people for an important show, you can lose all sense of thought. You might have sung the same lyrics over and over every night, but this one show you can't remember them. As long as they keep their heads in it and focus we won't have a problem taking the series."
If the Rays do manage to topple the Phillies, you can bet We the Kings will put their creative passion to use in supporting their team -- and this time, Clark plans to write something from scratch.
"It's already in the works," he promises. "I can't let this opportunity pass -- it's the best underdog story you could imagine."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.